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Overcoming the backlog of cases: Judicial reform

A British citizen, Will Pike was paralysed during the 2008 Taj Hotel blasts in 2008. Suing the hotel group for compensation, he wanted the trial to take place in London rather than in India. Accepting his contention, the London court allowed the matter, specifically stating that the trial in India could take some ‘twenty years’. This is a befitting example of the pendency in Indian judicial system and how it needs to be urgently addressed.


The graphic below states the number of cases pending before the Courts in India. Currently, about 3.25 crore cases are pending in the Indian courts and Judges fear that this number might escalate to about 4 crore cases by the end of 2016. This problem gets escalated due to the crunch of Judges at all levels of Judiciary as seen in the graphic below.


Timely justice is an integral part of access of justice and this huge backlog of cases amounts to denial and derailment of justice. This article will look into the proposed reforms for addressing this systemic problem.


The 245th Law Commission Report on “Arrears and Backlogs: Creating Additional Judicial (W)omanpower has recommended the following measures

1. Calculating Adequate Judge Strength through a more scientific analysis of data – In this context, the Commission has negated a simplistic method like Judge-Population ratio (Number of judges required per million people) in favour of a Rate of Disposal Method.

In the Rate of Disposal Method, one looks at the current rate at which judges dispose of cases. Then, given that the institutions and disposal rate remain the same, the Courts would need how many more additional judges to keep pace with the new filings in Court so that the newly instituted cases do not add to the existing backlog.

2. Judges to be appointed on a Priority basis: India currently has 1/5th of the number of judges it needs and thus, the Judges need to be appointed on a priority basis.

3. Increasing the age of retirement for Subordinate Court Judges to 62 years.

4. Creation of Special Courts for traffic/police challan cases: They constitute about 37.4% of the existing pendency before the subordinate courts.

5. Provision for staff and infrastructure

6. Periodic Needs Assessment by High Courts: Monitoring the rate of institution and disposal of cases and revising the adequate strength of Judges since a High Court is equipped with all the information relating to the subordinate courts in the State. The Malimath Committee had recommended setting up of Vigilance Cells in each district by the High Court to monitor the performance of subordinate judicial officers.

7. Uniform data collection and data management methods : to bring in greater transparency.

8. Need for a system-wide reform: The Commission has recommended the following:
● Greater encouragement to Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and Lok Adalats <Can you tell us the difference among various types of ADRs, mediation, arbitration and conciliation? Answer in comments>
● Setting up non-mandatory time frames and performance benchmarks for resolution of different types of cases based on rational criteria.


9. Use of Technology : Has been recommended by the 230th Law Commission Report and the Malimath Committee Report to
(a) Club cases filed on similar points of law, which can be decided on the basis of a single judgment.
(b) Track old cases, which have become infructuous and dispose them off quickly
(c) Setting up E-Courts and ushering in E-filing. Has received a major boost under the e-Courts Integrated Mission Mode Project.

10. Creation of All-India Judicial Service: Provided for under Article 312 of the Indian Constitution. The idea has been mooted by various bodies including the First Judicial Pay Commission and accepted by the Supreme Court. Art 2012 proposal regarding creation of this service has not received responses from all States and this proposal continues to be hanging in the air <can you tell us the procedure of creation of new all India service? Answer in comments>.


Many steps are currently being taken by the Government and the Courts to address this problem.

  • Monthly National Lok Adalats are carried out for expeditious disposal of claims.
  • In March 2016, the Monthly Lok Adalat disposed of about 1.5 lakh cases and settled claims worth Rs. 100 crores <Where can one appeal against the decision of Lok Adalats. Also tell us about the jurisdiction of Lok Adalats. Answer in comments>
  • In criminal cases, the setting-up of fast-track Courts and “plea bargaining” have further expedited matters <Can you tell us what’s plea bargaining? Answer in comments>
  • The e-courts project, aimed at providing better Court management and a database of all pending cases with easier filing of important documents is underway.
  • Moreover, the National Litigation Policy 2015 is awaiting ministerial approval and seeks to reverse the trend of Government being the biggest litigant <did you know one of the argument for rejecting NJAC was that govt was the biggest litigant, therefore can have no role in appointment of judges>.

However, in view of the burgeoning backlog and urgency of reducing backlog, the efforts need to be severely expedited.

P.S. This article is published with inputs from a CD user  Joyousjojo (name changed on request).

P.P.S. If you want to write explainers for CD, mail us your explainer at

Any doubts?

  1. Profile photo of Pranav Pathak Pranav Pathak

    Please put up question for this.

  2. Profile photo of Pranav Pathak Pranav Pathak

    Plea bargaining – an arrangement between prosecutor and defendant whereby the defendant pleads guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for a more lenient sentence or an agreement to drop other charges

  3. Profile photo of Pranav Pathak Pranav Pathak

    Lok Adalats were formed under the Legal Services Authorities Act which also provides for NALSA
    These settle disputes through concilliation and compromise
    Accepts cases pending in regular court under their jurisdiction
    • The Lok Adalat is presided over by a sitting or retired judicial officer as the chairman, with two other members, usually a lawyer and a social worker.
    • Main condition of the Lok Adalat is that both parties in dispute should agree for settlement.
    • There is no court fee.
    • The decision of the Lok Adalat is binding on the parties to the dispute and its order is capable of execution through legal process.
    • No appeal lies against the order of the Lok Adalat.

Retired judges to wield the gavel again II

  1. It will be used for enhancing the strength of judges to deal with the backlog of cases for a period of two years or the age of sixty five years
  2. It will be in effect until a five plus zero pendency is achieved
  3. ‘Five plus zero’ is an initiative by which cases pending over five years are taken up on priority basis and their numbers are brought down to zero
  4. At the Conference it was resolved that all HCs shall assign top-most priority for disposal of cases which are pending for more than five years

Retired judges to wield the gavel again I

  1. Event: The Union government has agreed to a resolution passed by the judiciary in the Chief Justices and Chief Ministers Annual Conference in 2016
  2. What: To use the services of retired HC judges with proven integrity and track record to tackle pendency of cases
  3. Constitution: The provision to use the services of retired judges is open to the Chief Justices of HCs under Article 224A of the Constitution
  4. It also requires the previous consent of the President as an extraordinary measure to tide over case pile-ups

No abnormal increase in High Court vacancies: Centre

  1. What: The government has said that it has increased the sanctioned strength of High Court judges from 906 (in 2014) to 1,079 (in 2016)
  2. According to the govt there has been no abnormal increase in number of vacacncies
  3. Why: In response to the SC saying that vacancies are not being filled

[op-ed snap] Time to decongest our prisons

  1. Theme: Overcrowding of prisons in India.
  2. Background: The prisons in Delhi and nine States have an occupancy rate of 150 per cent of their capacity. The average occupancy in all jails in the country was 117.4 per cent, as of December 31, 2014.
  3. Issues: Cramped conditions in prison militate against the prisoner’s right to good health and dignity.
  4. Further, an excessive prison population creates problems of hygiene, sanitation, management and discipline.
  5. Of equal concern are the available staff strength and the level of training they receive.
  6. Another point of concern is that a little over two-thirds of India’s prisoners are undertrials. Poverty remains the main reason for this, as most prisoners are unable to execute bail bonds or provide sureties.
  7. Recent developments: In February and May this year, the Supreme Court passed a series of interim orders to the States on measures to decongest prisons.
  8. But, no State or Union Territory has prepared a plan of action yet.
  9. On the issue of large proportion of undertrials in jails, efforts are being made to invoke Section 436A of the Code of Criminal Procedure and release those undertrials on personal bonds, who have completed half of the maximum jail term specified for their offences. But much more needs to be done.

SC directions for managing jails

  1. Context: SC judgment on a suo motu PIL on conditions of inmates in Indian prisons
  2. SC: Directed the Ministry of Women and Child Development to get the manual ready by November 30 and present it in court
  3. It also ordered the Ministry of Home Affairs to receive and collate plans of action for de-congesting jails from the various States and Union Territories in the next six months
  4. Moreover, it directed the Govt to prepare a viable Plan of Action within the next six months and hand it over to the apex court by March 31, 2017

No action taken to improve condition of jails

  1. Context: SC judgment on a suo motu PIL on conditions of inmates in Indian prisons
  2. The court found that authorities have defied repeated orders of SC- the latest ones being on February 7 and May 5 of this year- to draw a viable plan of action to de-congest jails
  3. Instead, prison authorities have banked on ad hoc proposals like the construction of additional barracks or jails, and these proposals have no time limits for implementation
  4. Also, the Ministry of Women and Child Development is yet to frame a Manual for Juveniles in Custody under the recently amended Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015

SC says jails are overcrowded by 150 %, laments plight of inmates

“Fundamental rights and human rights of people, however they may be placed, cannot be ignored only because of their adverse circumstances, says SC”

  1. Context: SC judgment on a suo motu PIL on conditions of inmates in Indian prisons
  2. SC: It is not only tragic but also pathetic to find that prisons in the national capital, along with half a dozen States across the country, are overcrowded by over 150%
  3. Blamed Delhi for paying little or no attention to the fundamental rights of under trials and convicts,

Relieve judiciary of avoidable burden: CJI

  1. CJI Thakur: Urged the Law Ministry to devise a mechanism to relieve the judicial system of the avoidable burden
  2. Burden: Arising out of sheer apathy, indifference or incapacity of the Govt and its departments to take certain decisions
  3. Panel: Also asked the government to set up a panel, comprising former judges
  4. Why? to decide whether or not to fight a case against any citizen when the issue could be resolved outside court
  5. The CJI referred to certain unnecessary cases which could be screened before reaching court and solved at the administrative level itself

Aims and objectives of Access to Justice Project

  1. Aims: Supporting justice delivery systems in improving their capacities in order to serve the people, in empowering ordinary people to demand improved services & to access their rights and entitlements
  2. Also, encouraging innovative activities to enhance legal awareness of vulnerable populations, and their ability to seek redress
  3. Objectives: To address the legal needs of the marginalised and vulnerable sections of society, particularly women, children, and SC/ST communities, who do not have the requisite means to ensure that their rights are guaranteed

What is Access to Justice project?

  1. It is being implemented in the eight North-Eastern States, and Jammu and Kashmir, at a total cost of Rs.30 crore for five years (2012-17)
  2. The Department of Justice has been implementing Access to Justice for Marginalised People with the UNDP’s support
  3. First phase: (2009-2012) focused on both the demand as well as supply side of justice, and has reached out to two million people, apart from training 7,000 paralegals and young lawyers

State of Indian Judiciary: Rising pendency of cases and workload of judges

  1. Between 25 million and 30 million cases are estimated to be pending across the Supreme Court, 24 high courts and the subordinate courts
  2. The economic cost of the delay is pegged at 0.5% of GDP
  3. Reason for pendency: Growing number of vacancies in judicial positions
  4. Background: The Supreme Court had earlier expressed displeasure at the Centre for non-execution of the collegium’s decision to transfer and appoint chief justices and judges in high courts

Can filing of routine appeals not stop, SC asks law panel- II

  1. Bypassing HC: Also to consider the desirability of laws that allow parties, including the government, to file appeals against tribunal orders in the Supreme Court bypassing the High Courts
  2. Action: Ordered the Centre to file an Action Taken Report on the Law Commission’s recommendations & also a three-judge Bench would hear the Centre in November 2017
  3. Context: The judgment follows Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur’s emotional appeal in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the work burden of judges has become humanly unbearable

Can filing of routine appeals not stop, SC asks law panel- I

  1. SC: ‘No other Supreme Court presents such an undignified sight’- SC quoted in a judgment
  2. Why? To describe its chagrin at its crowded courtrooms and corridors besieged by private litigants and cash-rich companies who file routine appeals, thwarting SC’s objective to decide cases of national interest
  3. SC: The Supreme Court of India must cease to be a mere court of appeal to litigants and a daily mentor of the Government
  4. Directed the Law Commission of India to file a report within a year on whether it is permissible to stop the filing of all appeals which are not of national and public importance
  5. Context: The judgment follows Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur’s emotional appeal in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the work burden of judges has become humanly unbearable

Lower courts settled 21,000 pending cases last month

  1. Context: The latest figures collated by the National Judicial Data Grid
  2. Clearing: Out of the over 21 lakh cases pending for the past 10 years across India, the subordinate judiciary settled nearly 21,000 of them last month
  3. New cases: But even as the judiciary went about clearing the backlog, 5,77,834 fresh cases were filed across subordinate courts in April
  4. Nature of cases: Out of the 20,835 cases settled by the lower judiciary in April, 13,645 were criminal in nature and 7,190 civil

Most death row convicts first-time offenders

  1. Context: Death Penalty India Report
  2. Findings: Most death row inmates in India are poor, uneducated and first-time offenders
  3. A total of 241 out of the 385 death row inmates in India are first-time offenders
  4. Around 60% of the prisoners did not complete secondary education and nearly 75% belonged to economically vulnerable sections
  5. Education levels affect the extent to which the death row prisoners are able to understand details of the case filed against them
  6. Lack of education results in alienation from the system

Supreme Court is disposing pending cases at a faster rate

  1. Context: Data released by the Ministry of Law and Justice
  2. Numbers: In 2015, the top court disposed 47,424 cases compared to 45,042 in 2014 and 40,189 in 2013
  3. Measures: Regular hearings by 5 & 3-judge benches of SC being scheduled every Monday and Friday from 2pm to 4pm from 11 January onwards
  4. These are a part of CJI Thakur’s plan to reduce backlog of cases

SC refuses to disclose data on pending verdicts

  1. Context: Bringing judiciary under the ambit of RTI Act
  2. The News: The SC dismissed a plea to maintain the data on its pending judgments and make the information public under the RTI Act
  3. Background: Earlier, Central Information Commission gave a decision that SC shall disclose the number of pending or reserved judgments
  4. The Commission’s decision was upheld by a single judge of the Delhi HC
  5. Criticism: In 2001, SC itself ruled that the confidence of litigants would be shaken if judgments were kept pending for years

:( We are working on most probable questions. Do check back this section.

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